Thinking Out Loud

October 25, 2019

Rediscovering Christian Concerts

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:57 am

It was fun being a big fish in a small pond, though Toronto, Canada isn’t exactly small. The pond in particular was the world of Jesus Music, later called Contemporary Christian Music or CCM, and one of the thing that being involved with the concert promoters afforded me was continual free access to the concerts. I simply needed to show up and walk in.

After that period of my life ended and we moved out of the city, I did not have contact with the new generation of concert promoters. I was able to wrangle some free tickets to a show about seven years ago, and I didn’t begrudge paying the ticket price for someone doing a small concert, but those prices for major artists started to grow astronomical, and it was money that we simply didn’t have.

We were in ministry ourselves, and we weren’t receiving a salary. We went to a few, but…

Recently I noticed a stand-up comedian who is better known in the U.S. would be playing Toronto later this year. It was $40. For one guy. With no guitar. Seems a tad high, don’t you think?

But Wednesday night’s concert by Brian Doerksen was “love offering” thing, and I don’t know if the $30 my wife I put in the offering for the both of us was high or low compared to the average, but it’s something we wouldn’t have been able to do even a few years back…

…You get something extra from live concerts that you don’t get from CDs, downloads or streaming playlists.

You get the artist’s heart.

Brian Doerksen

Brian Doerksen — known for songs like “You Shine” and “Come, Now is the Time to Worship” — was very transparent including some things he said he never shared publicly before about the struggles he had in former years. Sure, it’s time taken away from doing a larger number of songs, but in this trade-off, I believe that concert audiences come out ahead.

He covered material from both early and recent albums, his work with Shiyr Poets (setting the Psalms to music), and three songs from a forthcoming Christmas album. His one nod to other composers — he said he tries to include works by others on every album and in every concert — was the hymn, “We Cannot Measure How You Heal.” I wouldn’t describe this as a worship event entirely, but there were words to all the songs on the screen for those who wished to sing along…

…It was a surprisingly older audience. Have I entered my pre-Gaither years?

I realized what I’ve been missing not going to live concerts all these years. I’m sure I’m not the only one.

August 5, 2018

The K•LOVE We Never Knew

Filed under: Christianity, music — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 1:43 pm

If this graphic image doesn’t look familiar, click the links at the bottom of this piece for two recent rants about Christian music on radio, and modern worship in churches.

All this weekend, K-LOVE has been offering an online feed called “K-LOVE Classis: 80s, 90s and Early 2000s.” You can catch it at this link.

It’s in some respects, the K-LOVE that never was, though the station’s beginnings trace back to 1980.

There were a lot of people doing a lot of creative things in the earlier days of what we call CCM, but like K-LOVE itself, this is a rather safe, sanitized version of another generation’s Christian music. Perhaps what I’m longing to hear would be more of an Air1 classics station (Air1 is a sister station network to K-LOVE.) The first hour was interesting, but then everything started sounding the same.

Some of the trip down memory lane contained a few familiar songs — we played “Guess the Artist” while waiting for the ten second delay of the song ID onscreen — there were only a couple that really resonated where I turned the volume up high, and remember I was making my living full time from sales of this music in the 80s. (My wife handily won the artist guessing contest, however.)

We’ve discussed Christian music a few times here, so I don’t want to belabor this, you can read those articles at the following links.

Also, if you missed this 14-minute video,

 

June 3, 2018

My Favorite Worship Song Doesn’t Work Congregationally

The blue Pacific on a summer’s day
Rushing in to meet the yellow sand
The view’s terrific I see Monterrey
Lookin’ mighty fine from where I stand
The water dances in the sun’s reflection
A thousand silver birds fly in my direction
Now isn’t it beauty, isn’t it sweet perfection?

If someone were to ask me my favorite worship song, I suppose I could easily think of songs like “Shout to the Lord,” “Majesty,” “How Great Is Our God,” “Revelation Song,” and a number of hymns including “Our Great Savior,” which you may or may not know.

But not every praise song is meant to be sung congregationally, and we do ourselves a disservice when we try to take every great worship chorus and force congregations to sing songs that perhaps don’t match up with their personal expression of adoration to God. Sometimes we’re just meant to listen to someone else’s thoughts.

The song embedded below is an example of that. The late Tom Howard wrote “One More Reason” with a first verse that expresses the beauty of God in creation that he is familiar with growing up in California, with its references to the Pacific Ocean and Monterrey; the spirit of which was captured by the person who made the tribute video. To sing this in our church, the first thing I would want to do is make that verse more generic, but I’ve never got around to writing different lyrics because I rather enjoy the song just the way he wrote it.

The sky is singing, the earth proclaims
Always one more reason to praise Your name.

March 20, 2018

What’s Wrong With Christian Radio is Purely Intentional

For those of you who don’t know her, meet Becky. Becky is the fictional target audience for Christian radio stations. Christianity Today helped define her back in 2007:

Her name is Becky.

You probably know her. She’s recently turned 40, but is not quick to admit it. She’s a Christian and a devoted wife and mother. She drives a mini-van. Half-melted crayons roll around on the floor as she stops at a light en route to her daughter’s Tuesday night soccer practice. She laughs sometimes, chagrined that she is the very “Soccer Mom” they talk about come election time. Becky lives in the suburbs, likes to read, enjoys the women’s retreats at church, is struggling to remember algebra so she can help her son with his homework, and is a regular volunteer at the food pantry.

One more thing about Becky, a very important fact for this discussion: she listens to the local Christian music station almost exclusively…

We’ll get back to her in a moment.

On the weekend my wife pointed out something that the more I thought about it, the more profound it seems. She said something like, “There’s more variety on any given contemporary Christian music album than what is played on Christian radio.” In other words, the songs chosen to be the single off the albums tend to get chosen because they all match the station sound and therefore they all sound alike.

In my mind, I envisioned the following diagram where each line represents the range of the songs on any given artist’s album — some exploring a greater number of musical genres — and the dots representing the songs selected to be featured on the radio.

Wouldn’t you like to hear some of the songs from the edge of each artist’s collection?

I owe a lot of my spiritual nurture to Contemporary Christian Music, but I’m not a fan of what it has become. A year ago 20 The Countdown Magazine did a special show on the Best of Christian Worship. It could have been called Chris Tomlin’s Greatest Hits. There was a song which we knew by Robin Mark where they chose to play a Chris Tomlin version, again either because it matched the sound of that show, or because… well we won’t go there. Any possibility for musical diversity was eliminated. (Listening to how many times the host said “Chris Tomlin” during that two hour show became a bit of a drinking game.)

Not everybody likes Becky. In a January, 2012 article in CCM Magazine, Matt Papa, not sparing the use of Caps Lock, wrote:

I love Becky. I really do. That’s part of the reason I’m writing this. Becky needs to be ministered to just like I do and just like everyone else does. But Christian radio/industry people: please MINISTER TO HER!! Stop giving her what she WANTS….GIVE HER WHAT SHE NEEDS and that is the GOSPEL….or stop calling yourself “christian”. There is NOTHING “christian” about telling someone who has cancer that they are OK. Stop tickling her ears. Becky is a human being who needs to hear the truth of Christ, not an object to use for your financial gain. Woe to you. And here’s a novel idea: Why not target other people besides Becky?!?! The gospel has no demographics! Christ shed His blood for all people everywhere and you have misrepresented Him. I pray with all my heart that the money tables in your temple would soon be overturned.

Pastor Gabe Hughes, who apparently has some insider knowledge wrote this in the summer of 2016:

Like most radio and television programming, Christian radio caters to a specific demographic, and that demographic is women between the ages of 20 and 50 (give or take). Whether or not Christian radio is doing it on purpose, that demographic is also mostly white.

It gets way more specific than that: this target woman lives in suburbia in a house with a mortgage, drives a mini-van, has three kids, a dog and a cat, a husband who works full-time, she also works but it’s probably part-time, has a household income between $55 and $70K, vacations in July, doesn’t have enough time to read her Bible but she has enough time to journal, loves Beth Moore and Joyce Meyer, and goes to church about 3 times a month. This woman even has a name — Becky.

Some radio stations will put up a mock picture of this woman in the studio, and the DJs are told to look at it and know that’s who they’re talking to. I’ve attended seminars where this was the whole focus of each session: Becky, Becky, Becky. The entire radio station is programmed for her — not her husband and not her kids. Giving glory to God is incidental, or it’s presented like this: “By reaching Becky, you’re giving glory to God.” Becky’s name is mentioned more often at these conferences than God’s name is.

This is unofficially referred to as Becky Programming or the Becky Mentality. The gospel-minded might recognize this as exactly how not to evangelize. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for we are all one in Christ, right (Galatians 3:28)? But rather than giving an audience what they need to hear, Christian radio sections out a particular audience and gives her what the research says she wants to hear…

Why do so many of the songs sound alike?
Because radio is about producing the least number of negatives. Technically a radio station is not actually trying to give you something that you like. They’re trying to give you something you don’t dislike. As long as they can remain as even as possible without too much variation or fluctuation, they’re more likely to keep you on their radio station and not flipping to something else.

When the radio station maintains a continuous blend of sound, it just kind of melts into the background and you become oblivious that you’re still listening to it. You know how when you drive the same route to work every day, sometimes entire stretches of the trip will go by, and you’ll wonder where those miles went? Listening to the radio is kind of like that…

Even when it comes to production quality, songs have been equalized to be at the exact same volume level. Put on your headphones, find a song from the late 80s or early 90s, and give it a listen. Then pick a song from within the past decade and listen at the same volume. Notice the difference? The older song has more dynamics, highs and lows, crescendo and decrescendo, and the more current song is a lot louder and dynamically consistent throughout.

The reason why every single Christian recording artist sounds like they’re recording the exact same song is because they know K-Love won’t play it unless it sounds like every other song. Yes, Christian radio is the very reason every Christian artist sounds the same. It’s not necessarily the artist’s fault. They just have to play along (pun implied).

(There’s a lot more; I’ll be honest, I just wanted to copy and paste Gabe’s entire article, so click here to read more.

The early Christian music radio hosts were typical of FM radio guys in the late 1960s and early 1970s. There was no single off the album, they just picked a song they liked. They exposed and celebrated the things creative Christian songwriters and performers were doing across North America, and if you got lucky, some of the things from the UK (which even today we rarely get to hear, everything being so Nashville-centric.)

There are still some great songs being written and great albums being recorded, but I must say I feel sorry for the kids today who only know Christian music’s after and missed out on Christian music’s before. Fortunately for them, broadcasting is not the primary means of transmission in their generation. Indie artists survive and even flourish on alternative media, such as Fresh Life Radio which itself provides balance by playing some of the CCM fare, or the notable broadcast exception, Project 88.7 in Boise and Twin Falls, Idaho. 

Full disclosure: The business I own also sells Christian music. Sales are down. I am increasingly convinced that downloading or online sales of physical product are not blame. Many in the next generation are not hearing anything that captivates them. Groups are recognizable, but it’s increasingly difficult to differentiate one male solo artist from another.

The push for homogeneity is killing Christian radio.

Blogger and Pastor Gabriel Hughes posted this Becky collage in the article linked above. Maybe you know her.

 


Related? This was posted yesterday in conjunction with a new book release. The headline says it all: The founder of Christian rock music would’ve hated what it’s become.

February 17, 2018

The Sin of Marketing Offers

Early in the week, I was contacted to see if I knew how someone could get their hands on a song by Casting Crowns titled Listen to Our Hearts. They believed it was on the album Come to the Well, but they couldn’t locate it there.

A little research later, I determined that the song was a bonus track which was only sold to people who pre-ordered the album on iTunes.

It’s not the first time something like this has happened.

In the past few years there have been entire albums by Christian artists which were only available at LifeWay stores. Here, I need to point out that there are no LifeWay stores in Canada or the UK, so fans of the artists in questions simply could not obtain the product, no matter how hard they tried.

There’s something about this that just strikes me as wrong.

I saw an article the other day about “The Sin of Partiality.” Not surprisingly it began in the book of James (2:1-4):

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

My brain connected the article with the song request.

I know Casting Crowns needs to make money, and I’m not saying they should give their songs away for free — the influence of Keith Green notwithstanding — but somewhere between open source and restricted access there should be a balance.

I posted a fan-posted YouTube edition the song on Twitter as a type of protest. That way some people got to hear it that day. I added that a year, or two years later, “the song never surfaced in any form.” That brought this reader response:

To which I responded,

I realize that Christian retail is fraught with moral and ethical perils. The one I hear the most is, “The Bible should be free.” (I always have free copies to meet that objection.) I don’t expect the people at iTunes to live by Christian standards, but surely the people at LifeWay must know, in the back of their minds, that at the same time they’re doing something for their customers, they are denying others, right? (In a future article, we’ll look at the related idea of giving greater discounts to people buying in quantity, which is always an ethical dilemma.)

I just think anytime you say “exclusive offer” you’re letting some people in and shutting some people out.

At that point, the connection to what James says about favoritism is valid.


Note: The song was a collaboration between three artists. The versions by Steven Curtis Chapman and Geoff Moore have proved equally elusive in 2018.

December 12, 2016

Hillsong United Live at The Forum: A Review of Let Hope Rise

let-hope-rise-dvdIf there’s a single takeaway from the 1-hour, 43-minute documentary Let Hope Rise, it’s that the members of Hillsong United are totally amazed and humbled at the band’s worldwide influence and popularity.

The film played in theaters in North America just a few months ago, and is releasing on DVD and Blu-Ray December 20th, just in time for Christmas. A concert at The Forum in Los Angeles provides the storyline, with scenes in the dressing room just before they go onstage book-ending the movie.

This is very much a documentary, not a concert film. There are a couple of songs which play in their entirety. Others are edited somewhat, or transition between the songwriting collaborative process and the finished product onstage. The focus here is to provide a behind-the scenes look.

Again, this is a film about Hillsong United, not the Hillsong worship program in general. There is a far too short, ten minute nod to the history and scope of the parent church in Sydney, but its worship teams aren’t in view here; neither is the younger band Hillsong Y&F (Young and Free) mentioned.

The members of the band obviously know each other well and trust each other. When they are about to go on at The Forum, the songs are basically so very fresh that one of the guys says of another something to the effect, ‘He’s about to walk on the stage and sing words he’s never sung into a microphone before.’

It was interesting that on the one hand, the band talks about the fact they work for the church and are not particularly well paid, but on the other hand are able to enjoy an oceanfront house in California to write songs. Back home in Australia, the members of the band appear to live quite modestly. Some have very young families, with their wives staying home to take care of the kids.

We had planned to watch this with a full stereo sound system but a last minute glitch caused us to relocate. At first I was disappointed, but the music both is and isn’t the focus; it is more about providing the inside look at the band using material filmed for the movie and archival footage the band owned.

Hillsong’s influence on worship music around the world is immeasurable and Hillsong United’s influence on youth culture and youth ministry is equally significant. Anyone who is a fan of United will probably want to watch this several times. Onscreen lyrics are provided on a few songs for those who even want to sing along.


Movie has been provided courtesy of Pure Flix Entertainment and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc

November 18, 2016

Indie Music Doesn’t Come Cheap: A Balance Sheet by Recording Artist jj heller

Christian music artist jj heller (usually not written using capital letters) has just produced a Christmas album, Unto Us (nothing but capital letters when she types it.) Many of you know her music, but instead of talking about the songs, she posted the following on Facebook which gives readers such as you and I some insights into the costs of making an album independently. If you’ve ever helped crowd-fund a project like this and wondered where the money goes, this might help. (In fairness, Facebook doesn’t offer italics!)


As you may or may not have seen, this past Friday (11/11/16) was the fruition of months of hard work on my new Christmas album, UNTO US (my 10th full-length record of my nearly 13-year career as a full-time musician). I have an incredible network of fans who are willing to support my music, and over 2,000 Kickstarter backers helped fund the making of UNTO US this summer.

Even though I’m an independent artist, I can still make a record of the same quality as a signed artist. I tracked in the same studios and hired the same producers, musicians and studio engineers a record label would hire. But, because I don’t have a label I’m responsible to pay all of these talented people. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love the freedom this allows me, and this arrangement lets me create music and recordings which are consistent with who I am as an artist and a person.

The $81,000 pledged this summer made UNTO US one of Nashville’s top 25 most-funded Kickstarter campaigns to date, and I definitely count it as a success. However, just like most things in life, there’s more complexity beneath the surface. So before you picture my husband, Dave, and me counting our piles of money like Scrooge McDuck, let me pull back the curtain as we look at the breakdown of the expenses associated with the making of UNTO US.

THE NUMBERS BEHIND A SUCCESSFUL CAMPAIGN

$81,071 in pledges looks very impressive doesn’t it? I think so too.

Of course, Kickstarter needs to make money to keep their lights on, their staff paid and their website up and running. KICKSTARTER’S FEE = $4,023.

Kickstarter doesn’t process the credit card payments. They hire another company to do that. THE FEE FOR PAYMENT PROCESSING = $2,827.

We also needed to make sure the campaign was seen by lots of my fans over the course of the month of the campaign. THE FEE FOR FACEBOOK ADS $6,300

When it came time to charge the credit/debit cards of Kickstarter backers, there are often failed transactions and this resulted in $605 in lost revenue from PLEDGES THAT COULDN’T BE FULFILLED BY BACKERS.

Add all these deductions up and the fees come to -$13,756.

unto-us-jj-hellerTOTAL LEFT FOR THE MAKING OF UNTO US = $67,315

Making the record over the course of several months meant paying for the time of producers, engineers, studios, and musicians.
COST OF EVERYTHING YOU HEAR ON UNTO US = $49,400

I really want my records to look good, and this means paying for graphic design, photography, styling, clothing, hair, makeup and nails.
COST OF ALL DESIGN EXPENSES = $6,000

CDs and booklets were printed and assembled, then shipped to us. The album was also submitted to digital distributors (iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, etc.).
COST OF MANUFACTURING/DISTRIBUTION EXPENSES = $8,570

Kickstarter rewards needed to be sent to backers in bubble mailers or boxes. Additional rewards needed to be designed as well. Plane tickets, rental car, hotels were purchased for two Kickstarter reward concerts.
COST OF KICKSTARTER REWARDS FULFILLMENT = $8,600

Promotion for the album included the creation of four lyric videos, the purchase of stock footage, video editing, location fees, website placements, publicist, more Facebook ads, and radio promotion.
COST OF PROMOTION EXPENSES SO FAR = $11,550

TOTAL EXPENSES FOR “UNTO US” = $84,120

If you’re keeping score, this leaves a deficit of $16,805 of additional expenses which we paid from our own pocket.

Keep in mind, Dave and I spent hours songwriting and discussing which popular Christmas songs should go on the record. We met with our producers to discuss how the project should eventually sound. I haven’t factored any of our time off the road making the album, or the cost of childcare into these calculations.

IT’S STILL WORTH IT

I didn’t make this tally to make anyone feel sorry for me. I get to make music for a living, and I love it! I just want to show whoever reads this post that making a professional-sounding record is a VERY EXPENSIVE endeavor. As digital streaming makes listening to music INCREASINGLY LESS EXPENSIVE for the listener, independent artists like me are depending on our fans more than ever.

This career is something I’m called to. It’s fulfilling, hard, rewarding and scary sometimes, but I can’t see myself doing anything else right now. UNTO US was a labor of love. I’m so proud of the musical moments we created in the studio, and I love imagining thousands of families creating Christmas memories with my music as a soundtrack.

My hope in breaking these figures down is that it provides a small window into the creation of the music we often take for granted. Buying a digital album for $10 is the equivalent of streaming one song over 2,000 times (over 116 hours of listening!). On behalf of all artists, especially those of us who are independent, we hope you will choose to invest in music you believe in.

*jj and dave heller

August 4, 2016

C201 Songs

Filed under: Christianity, music, worship — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:53 am

In the sidebar at Christianity 201, there are a number of worship songs linked with devotional articles we’ve done there. Many of these would be recognizable to those of you who feature modern worship in your church or listen to Christian radio, but I thought today we would include some which are a good fit here at Thinking Out Loud which may be know to some of you, but not others.






June 26, 2016

More from the Lost Songs Channel: CCM’s Early Days

Part two of the top-ranking songs on the YouTube channel I manage for Searchlight Book. See yesterday’s post for the top 5 Click through to YT for descriptions. And when I say top-ranking, realize this is a rather obscure YT channel. These are very old CCM songs and the criteria for choosing them was to select songs that had not been uploaded (that we could find) on the day they were posted.

#6 Noel Paul Stookey – Building Block (1982)

#8* Danniebelle Hall – Work The Works (1974)

#9 Wayne Watson – Born in Zion (1985)

#10 Craig Smith – God and Man at Table are Sat Down (1979)

#12* John Fischer – Righteous Man

*Items 7 and 11 on this site are spoken-word (non-music) extras.

Yes, John Fischer had two songs on this list. I always felt the chorus of the one featured today, Righteous Man, would make a great song for Promise Keepers.

June 25, 2016

Samples from the Lost Songs YouTube Channel

Today, the top-ranking songs on the YouTube channel I oversee which is sponsored by Searchlight Books but has never, to the best of my knowledge, posted anything that has anything to do with books. We think of it as a “Lost songs of Christian music” channel, and that’s what it should have been named; additionally we started out with songs that had not been posted by others, so these were intended to be unique in terms of what’s on YouTube. Click through to YT for descriptions. And when I say top-ranking, realize this is a rather obscure YT channel.  Again, remember these are very old CCM songs.

#1 Barry McGuire – Communion Song (1977)

#2 Ken Medema – Lord, Listen To Your Children Praying (1973)

#3 Scott Wesley Brown – I Wish You Jesus (197?)

#4 John Fischer – All Day Song (197?)

#5 Michael and Stormie Omartian – Seasons of the Soul (1978)

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